With a new term starting on Saturday, let’s look at how you can optimize your critique group experience. The most important thing you can do is show up. I mean, it’s best to have your own work prepared and ready to share, but even if you don’t have anything, you need to attend, give feedback, and build relationships. When you join a critique group, you’re making a commitment to be there for the other people in the group. It’s one of the smartest investments you can make.





Writing and illustrating are solitary endeavors. You’re working on your own most of the time. Things you can do on your own include:

1) Generating ideas.

2) Morning Journal.

3) Creative Walks.

4) Master Studies.

5) Remembering books you liked as a kid.

6) Searching for an idea you can’t wait to make.

7) Imagining scenes.

8) Story Mapping.

9) Drawing!

10) Making thumbnails.

11) Character studies.

12) Identifying your story’s problem.

13) Writing down lines that pop into your head.

14) Getting the whole thing down.

15) Making a dummy.

16) Looking at pacing and composition.

17) Strengthening page turns.

18) Evaluating how words work with pictures.

19) Asking how you can SIMPLIFY.

20) Eliminating unnecessary words and story points.


With Your Critique Group


There’s so much that you can do on your own that you might be wondering why you need a critique group. Well, you need feedback. The most important thing you can do when your story is being critiqued is to listen. Don’t get defensive or blow off criticism. After all, you don’t have to take anyone’s advice on how to improve your story. Just listen, take notes, and express appreciation.


And then, you should probably ask some questions. So, let’s talk about some questions you might ask your critique group:

1) What excites you about this idea?

2) What scenes come to your mind?

3) What’s the heart of the story?

4) Where does the tension grow from?

5) What’s at stake?

6) What makes this story special?

7) How does the story relate to kids?


Other things you can cover, either as the one critiquing or the one being critiqued are:

1) Brainstorming ideas and possible story plots.

2) Identifying the story’s hook or It-Factor.

3) Evaluating the basic elements of story.

4) Asking clarifying questions.

5) Reading the story aloud to refine words.

6) Drawing together.

7) Flipping through page turns to work on pacing.

8) Seeing where you can add more contrast.

9) Evaluating the words and pictures.


Different Strategies for Different Stages


Your critique group is there to help you, and you’re there to help them. It’s important to be sensitive to where people are in the process. In the beginning, people are more open to input and story ideas. But if they’re in the middle or the end stage of working on their story, they don’t need a lot more ideas. They need help refining what they already have.


And while you should listen to all of the critiques, you don’t have to apply everything to your story. You don’t need to chase all of the different possibilities. You’re still in charge of your story, and you can say, “Thank you. I’ll take that into consideration.”


But you do want to listen to what other people are saying and feeling. If more than one person tells you something isn’t working, it can be important to look at WHY it didn’t work for them. But then it’s up to you to find a way that resonates with you and your story to fix it.


Storyteller Academy Members Talk About Critique Groups


Elaine Kearns 

Abi Cushman

Myrna Foster

Joan Raymond

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